Director : Darren Aronofsky
Starring : Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Running Time : 108 minutes
Release Date : On DVD – 2011
Nina (Portman) is a ballerina who eats, sleeps and breathes dance. She shares an apartment with her overbearing mother (Hershey) who is obsessed with Nina’s career. When the ballet company’s Artistic Director, Leroy (Cassel) decides to stage a production of Swan Lake, he chooses Nina over his former lead dancer Beth (Ryder) for the role of the Queen Swan.
Whilst Nina can dance the role of the innocent White Swan to perfection, she must also be able to portray the sensuality of the Black Swan with the same authenticity…something Leroy has doubts she can do. Enter Lily (Kunis) a new dancer who personifies the essence of the Black Swan. Thus begins a twisted tale of friendship, desire, obsession and, of course, dance.
I first got wind of this movie way back in November 2010. I started hearing ‘the buzz’ about Black Swan, and more precisely Portman, on a few online message boards and websites that I frequent. Since then, Portman has won a Golden Globe, SAG Award and BAFTA for this performance. She is also nominated for an Academy Award.
To set this tense psychological thriller against the backdrop of the world of ballet is surely a stroke of genius. In this world, perfection and effortless grace are everything. I think it prudent of me to mention at this time that even if you know little of ballet or Swan Lake, fear not.
This is not just a dance movie. Aronofsky’s camerawork gives an almost documentary like feel. It can be a little dizzying at times but it adds to the intimacy of the movie
Portman, who trained for a year to prepare for this role, including learning to dance en pointe, plays Nina as a woman so repressed, both physically and emotionally, that it is almost painful to watch. From her tight ballerina’s hair bun and forced, exaggerated smile, to her self mutilation, everything about Nina screams tension and restraint.
The mother, Erica’s, overbearing presence and subtle manipulation of her daughter is sad to witness. Erica seems determined to keep Nina in a perpetual state of co-dependency. Nina takes to devising ways to lock out her mother, both physically and emotionally, from her life.
In one early scene, although technically perfect, Leroy is trying to explain to her what he expects from his Black Swan. Nina looks at him with big wide eyes and that taut, almost grimace-like smile and nods her understanding. But her eyes reveal the truth…..she genuinely has no idea what he wants from her. He admonishes her to loosen up, to be sensual and seductive but she is so tightly wound that she simply cannot do as he wishes.
One morning Nina is late and arrives at the theatre to find Lily dancing the role of the Black Swan. Leroy, rather offhandedly, points out that this is what he wants from Nina. Nina stares at the beautiful and laughing Lily in abject horror and the die has been cast. Lily’s sensual self assuredness and languid movements are the absolute opposite of Nina’a taut, tight self loathing and doubt. The two women develop an uneasy friendship……or do they?
From here on in, the movie tracks Nina’s demise into seeming madness. We are never quite sure what is real and what is only in Nina’s tortured mind. Subtle CGI effects as Nina becomes the swans, leave you blinking and asking if you really did just see that. The opening night performance of Swan Lake will leave you breathless in it’s magnificence as the perfect culmination of the movie.
I will be going to see this movie again before it’s cinema run is over because I need to make sure that the movie I think I saw was the one I did see. Yes, it really is just that good.
Nominated for Best Film, Best Directing and Best Actress at this years Academy Awards, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, the Best Actress Oscar is Natalie’s (sorry Nicole).